PORTRAIT 2 - Sibongile, clown without border

Trip Start Jan 19, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Lesotho  ,
Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sibongile means "we thank you" in Zulu and is quite a common name in South Africa. Meeting this other Sibongile was the beginning of another adventure.

I meet her in Lesotho in May 2009, in Malealea, a small mountain village.
In the lodge one evening, she puts some house music and starts juggling, while her friend Kim plays pois. I look, completely fascinated.

They tell me they are professional performers, currently working in Malealea for the NGO Clowns Without Borders South Africa.

They are holding a workshop for orphans and their guardians aiming at strenghtening the link between them, through play, laughter and emotional relief techniques.

Sibongile is a professional clown and juggler, Kim a professional acrobat-drummer-fire dancer-sport trainer.

I spend 2 weeks with them in Malealea, enjoying the workshop and their company in the evening.Very quickly I feel like making their portrait.

It takes me two other meetings with Sibongile to finally get her time and attention to do it.

Firstly I visit her one Sunday in her township, Ashdown, near Petermarizburg, in Kwazulu-Natal, and enjoy her hospitality. I also have another opportunity to reunite with her in Swaziland in July 2009, and follow another Clowns without Border workshop.

Sibongile, how did you become a clown?
It just happened. I heard about an association working with young people in my township.
Called KZN Survival of violence, their aim was to conduct post-trauma workshops with young people who survived the political violence of the 80s.
I had just finished college, learning secretarial work, and I was looking for a job.
I went to see what the association was offering instead of sitting at home.
KZN Survival of Violence was collaborating with Cirque du Monde and Cirque du Soleil to adapt one of their programme for vulnerable people. They sent a tainer for 3 weeks. Then, we felt like we wanted to take it further locally.
Cirque du Monde agreed to send a trainer each year to professionalise us.
Cirque du Monde organised a training for us, with the aim to make us become trainers.
In 2 months, we learnt all the circus skills and how to work with children and vulnerable communities.
It is really useful for my job today, I can see the way we approach children in those communities is the best

Which circus skill do you like the most?
Juggling is the skill I like the most and do the best.

How did you start working for Clowns without borders?
Jamie [Lachman, the founder of Clowns without borders South Africa] was looking for artists and contacted me.

What do you like the most about your job?
When we go to rural areas, we visit communities that have no access to most of the services, including the basic ones like water. We cannot satisfy all of their needs but we leave something in their mind, make them think about something else.

Can you explain what work Clowns without Borders conduct in the communities?
First we visit the communities and do clown shows. It introduces the concept of clown to them and enable us to have a first contact. When we then come back for a residency [a full programme of workshops over a year aiming at providing laughter and emotional relief to children and caregivers in Communities affected by HIV/AIDS, poverty, and violence], they know us already.
We started with this concept in 2007. In 2007, we have done residencies in South Africa, in the Limpopo and Kwazulu-Natal areas. In 2008 we went back to those areas and started a new one in Swaziland. In 2009 we started Lesotho and did a follow-up in Swaziland.

When you do not work for Clowns without Borders, what do you do?
I work as an independent clown or juggler for corporate or private events. And I also work once a week, for 2 and a half hours, for Reach For a Dream, visiting children with life-threatening diseases in hospital. Those children might die any minute, you know you might not see them the next time, it is very disturbing for me.

Once, when I arrived there was no children, when usually they are really expeting us. The nurses told me they were all in too bad conditions and not able to play at all. I stood there, crying, not knowing what to do.
That day I almost quit.

Where do you get your inspiration from?
From Jamie, I learnt a lot from him. He helps me improve each time we are preparing a show, and gives me a lot of recognition, which also helps me do better.

What makes you laugh?

I like comedies and will not watch anything else than comedies...

What is your motto?

Perseverance is the motor of success. I am coming from a tough background, had no job, no money and a child to raise. If I had not persevered I would not be here today.

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